Friday, April 13, 2007

One night in Bangkok

This is incredible, I have just come to a place where time has been standing still for 60 years. The Atlanta hotel, situated in the modern part of Bangkok, a block from the Skytrain, looks like something taken from a movie from the 50s - which is not far from the truth, either, since its website says its lobby is often being used as filmsets. Food is GOOD and cheap, I had a pepper steak for less than 5 dollars. The hotel was established in 1952 and hasn't changed much since - except for aircondition in the rooms and a free wi-fi zone in the lobby. Recommended!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Songkran - Thai New Year

To walk through Bangla Street in Patong Beach without getting wet tonight, would be like walking through Sahara without getting sand in your shoes. Thai New Year is here, and the way they celebrate is to soak everybody and everything with water.
Big air-pressure water guns are being sold anywhere, and even the fire department has parked a big fire engine in the middle of Bangla Street to make sure nobody runs out of water.
I had a hard time keeping my camera reasonably dry!

Aircon fever and a birthday party

The day yesterday started pretty badly - woke up shaking and sweatingm hot and cold at the same time. Every part of my body was aching and my nose running. Went down to breakfast and had a large cup of tea and returned to bed. The tea worked fine for a while, then it got worse. I decided to see a doctor in case i had caught something serious. (although as a man I should normally rather die a heroic death than seeing a doctor for small things like a fever..) The doctor looked in my throat, and as there was no throat inflammation she said it was just a heavy cold. I was asked if i had a room with air condition, and the probable cause of the cold and fever was that I had the temperature too low. She prescribed some pills for the fever and some other stuff for the running nose and told me to take it easy for the rest of the day.

On the way back to the hotel I went to a bar and ordered a large cup of tea with honey, which tasted wondefully. One of the barmaids told me it was her birthday, and invited me for her party in the evening. I said I might come, but only if I felt better. I spent the next few hours in bed, sleeping well after having taken the pills, and woke up so much better I went to the beach and had a swim. Then I went to the tailor and picked up my new clothes, which looked fine.

After having had a shower I felt better and went to the party, which was a nice experience! People were coming and going, tasting her delicious food and having a drink or two at the bar. There was an abundance of Thai and other food, even a Norwegian fish soup! Nobody was allowed to pay for the food, but she accepted small gifts from the guests - some had bought something, others contributed to the neckles of Bath bills around her neck. Everybody was having a good time - Thai, Norwegian (several!), Swiss, German and more nationalities - except maybe for the big Finnish guy who probably did not even notice there was a party going on. He poured down whisky like water, and the only word this statue of stone ever said was "MORE!" when his glass was empty. To the birthday girl's protest, who did not want any guests to leave, I went back to bed around 2230 - still not feeling too well, but well enought to have enjoyed the Thai birthday party very much.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Patong Beach, Phuket

Slow, relaxing days - beautiful beach and surroundings. Simple, but adequate Swedish hotel with goooood airconditioning. Good way of winding down after a week of extreme travelling.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Singapore - Kuala Lumpur - Phuket

The night coach was great! Only rows of 3 seats, which were really comfortable reclining seat suitable for sleeping. The roads in Malaysia were surprisingly good - like the French Autoroutes. By the way - all I saw of Malaysia looked VERY well organized. Arrived in KL at 530 and had breakfast at McDonalds, walked a little around and tried to log onto to get a ticket to Phuket. Then I discovered that tickets can only be bought online up to 23 hours 59 seconds before the flight. So I tried to call them but got a busy signal. Found out that they had an office in the Central Railway station, caught a taxi there and got my ticket. The airport shuttle was ready to leave at once, so unfortunately I did not get to see the Petronas Twin Towers this time. Next time I'm in KL who knows - they might not be the highest structures in the world anymore.

Airasia was also a nice experience - new plane, nice crew, and arrived on time.

Checked in at a cheap, but nice hotel in Patong Beach for five nights, went to sleep to make a little up for the 2 previous nights, and had dinner. Beach tomorrow, finally!

Ho Chi Minh - Singapore - Batam (Indonesia) - Singapore

An even earlier morning, my worst so far - I had arranged for a wakeup call at 4:30 to be at the airport an hour later. Having arrived at he airport and paid the driver I discovered that he had taken me to the domestic terminal, so there was a quick morning walk across the airpoirt area to get to the international flights. There was plenty of time anyway. I had coffee for my last dongs and a full breakfast on the plane. TigerAir was a nice surprise, not only was it a brand new Airbus with plenty of leg room, the service was also excellent and we arrived in Singapore well ahead of schedule.

I did not see much of Singapore - just a quick train ride from Changi Airport to Harbour Front station, as I had already decided to make as much out of the day as possible, taking a ferry over to Indonesia and return in the afternoon. Now - as so often when I travel - something nice happened that I did not expect. As I was walking around on the top open deck to see as much as possible of Singapore and the crossing, photographing the skyline and the heavy ship's traffic, I noticed two beautiful Asian women. One of them approached me and asked if I wanted them to take a picture of me with my camera, which of course I accepted.

We started talking, and they told me they were real estate agents going over to Indonesia to look at a few properties. When I asked them what I should try of the Indonesian cuisine they invited me to join them for lunch so they could guide me. I gladly accepted this too, of course, and had a wondeful meal of local Batam ingredients of which I don't remember half. The oxtail soup I do remember, along with squid, a few totally unidentifiable things and something resembling a biscuit made from soy beans. All very delicious, and I had much more than I could take. On top of that I got some Indonesian sweets served on leaves - I have no memories of what it was called, but parts of it tasted like honey.

After lunch I went with Samina and Sumiah to look at some properties. The Batam island is under heavy development, and wealthy Singaporians go there to buy retirement or weekend houses. Some of the neigbourhoods were really beautiful, brand new houses in light colors, some of them with a very pictoresque view to the Singapore strait. After this we visited an aquantance of Samina's, a lady who come once a week to work in her house, thus financing the restauration of her beautiful village house. A win-win situation for both parties. Anothe reason for Samina and Sumiah to go to the village was the special Indonesian health massage. They convinced me to try, too, and it was really a good relief for my aching muscles after having travelled almost day and night for the last 7 days.

We barely got back to the harbour in time for the last boat at 9pm, far too late for my 10:15 train to Kuuala Lumpur (I discovered the consequences of the 1 hour time difference too late...). Samina went with me in a taxi to the Beach Road bus station, just in time to get a ticket for the midnight coach.

My day turned out very differently from my original plan, thanks to my new friends. And in addition to what they taught me about life in Singapore and Indonesia, they were really able to change my impression of Moslem women. Samina, mother of 4 children and originally from Pakistan, and Sumiah, a third generation Singaporean with great grandfathers from Java - just having adopted a newborn, beautiful baby boy whose picture she proudly showed me - were just as far from the media-created stereotype of Moslem women as possible. Instead of the oppressed, burka-clad, shy and uneducated women that western press normally will describe, I met two intelligent, interesting, fun-loving, successful businesswomen, confident enough to approach a lonely traveller, and even invite him to share their programme for a full day. I am very grateful for this extremely memorable and educating day - on a number of levels.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City

Got up early to be picked up for my 7:00 bus from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh. Had some toast and coffee in front of the hotel, since they did not tell me when the pickup bus was coming. I guessed it would be a good idea to be there around 6:20. Waited in vain till 6:50 and took a tuk-tuk taxi to the bus station, a little nervous of being too late. It turned out they had changed departure time to 8:00 - which means I could have had a normal night's sleep, more or less. Anyway, the extra time spent at the heaviest corner of Cambodia's capital was interesting enough, watching families having their breakfast on the street, all the overloaded minibuses, the bike taxis and the small motorbikes carrying 4 or 5 people. (and in some cases the better part of their belongings, as well)

The trip across the Mekong delta went smoothly except for the first hour, due to excessive roadwork. After the ferry across one of the main arms of Mekong the roads improved and the modern Vietnamese coach held a steady cruising speed of 90 kmh, using it horn constntly, clearing the road of tuk-tuks and tractors.

The border crossing into Vietnam was swift, officials on both sides being polite and efficient. As a Norwegian - unlike most of the other passengers- I did not even have to pay for a visa. Hmmm... - if it is because they think our current Norwegian government is up to their socialist standards I'm not quite sure I am comfortable with it, although I always like not having to spend the extra dollars for a visa....

Entered Ho Chi Minh City early enough to have a little look around before I found a hotel in a back alley - the Hotel Kim. Have to come back to Vietnam again, what I have seen so far looks pretty good.